Developer challenges skate park plans

Surf City may soon add a skate park to its list of attractions, but the project may be met with opposition from a developer who instead wants to build affordable housing at the proposed location.

The City Council gave its staff the green light Jan. 18 to enter into six months of exclusive negotiations with Vans to build a "world-class" skate park on a 2.7-acre parcel on Center Avenue near Gothard Street.

The project calls for a 12,000-square-foot skate plaza, a 15,000-square-foot elevated skate bowl area, a walking space and a snack and skate shop. And, according to a city staff report, the center would be free and open to the public.

The move went against the plans of Center Partners LLC, a developer that proposed building a residential project on that site more than 20 years ago.

In a letter to the city, Center Partners' lawyer, Dennis Harkavy, said the city has been proposing other developments at the site since 2007 without considering or notifying his group.

However, the agreement between Center Partners and the city was terminated years ago because the group's proposed project did not fulfill the city's requirements, including parking availability, said Stanley Smalewitz, director of economic development for the city.

The city did everything in its power to reach out and work with Center Partners on many occasions, Smalewitz said.

But time and again, there were elements that did not fulfill the city's requirements, and the developer never took the steps to meet them, he said.

Councilman Devin Dwyer came to Center Partners' defense during the meeting, saying the city is taking advantage of the opportunity.

"Legally, we're in the right position…," he said. "Is it the moral thing to do? In my mind, we're screwing this guy, and that makes me mad. I don't think the city should be in the business of taking advantage of our citizens when it sees fit."

Dwyer abstained. The rest of the council voted to allow the exclusive negotiation.

Councilman Don Hansen said he once shared the concerns Dwyer had, but after further study he found that Center Partners didn't meet city requirements and that the developer only attempted to challenge the city when a new proposal was presented at that location.

Golden West College had proposed building student dorms, but the project never came to fruition, Smalewitz said. The property is owned by the city Redevelopment Agency.

"This opportunity, at least in my opinion, for our community and the active skateboard children and families, is a big deal," Hansen said. "This is a big deal. This is a nationally branded name, and I think it very well fits in the character of our community."

Vans approached the city in July with the proposal and committed to paying all development costs and maintenance, according to the staff report.

The city, however, slated the site for affordable housing as part of a requirement by the state to have certain parcels zoned for that purpose. If the project is approved, the city will need to find another location for about 175 units of affordable housing, Smalewitz said.

An environmental assessment of the project is underway.

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